The Bengals shocked fans and media alike when they got off their wallets and spent serious money in free agency.
Two people who weren’t shocked were two of Cincinnati’s brightest young players, safety Jessie Bates and defensive lineman Sam Hubbard. Both were told at the end of 2019 that the team was going to aggressively attack the defensive side of the ball before 2020, and the team absolutely delivered.
“I was one of the last guys to have a conversation with Coach Lou and we had a great conversation for about 20 minutes,” Bates told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “I kind of knew we were going to get some help in here as far bringing in some new guys. They were preaching about getting younger and we did.
“You heard around the league the Bengals don’t reach out to players in free agency and spend a lot of money because that’s always been their philosophy. They’ve always been comfortable with some of the guys in the locker room. I think now it kind of gives the players an eye opener. They’re not going to keep a lot guys around if they’re not getting the job done. Whether that’s not getting a contract extension if not playing well in that first year, nobody’s safe, I think that puts a little bit of fire under a lot of people and opened their eyes a little bit. At least to the guys that have been there for a while.”
That is one aspect to this change in philosophy that may have flown under the radar the past couple of seasons, players becoming too comfortable. That was really a problem on the offensive side of the ball as the Bengals never really added enough competition along the offensive line to force some of the more underachieving players to either rise to the top or lose their starting spot. However, even good players can grow comfortable if they see their team isn’t in a hurry to replace them. This offseason certainly shakes that idea up.
Hubbard also added on to the idea of these moves helping to bring a winning culture to a team that desperately needs it.
It says a lot about these players that two years in they can see how these moves can impact a locker room. They both have only spent two seasons with the Bengals, but clearly the lack of success those two seasons has them working towards more.
The Bengals added a ton of players, and it shows that they really felt they needed to improve at every level of the defense. From bringing in big name defenders in their prime like defensive lineman D.J. Reader and safety Vonn Bell to almost completely remaking the secondary with the additions of cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander, this defense is going to be almost unrecognizable in 2020.
The biggest name among the Bengals additions, Reader, an addition that both players feel will help stop the run in 2020.
“I know he’s a great young player. I think they made him the highest-paid nose tackle and he definitely deserves it. I think it was a great addition,” Hubbard said. “That’s a big presence. He’ll help us all across the front when it comes to stopping the run and rushing the passer. A very physical, big guy.”
Bates also envisioned Reader helping the defense’s workload in stopping the run, but he thinks it may save him and his fellow safeties having to make some extra plays.
The Bengals rushing defense has been fairly nonexistent for a few seasons now. Part of that was due to the defensive line not getting enough penetration, but it also had quite a bit to do with the linebackers not being athletic or aggressive enough to make the plays needed. That is why we saw Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates finish among the team leaders in sacks the past two years.
Another player who will likely help stop the running game is a familiar face for Hubbard, who was a redshirt Freshman in 2015 when Bell was finishing up his college career at Ohio state.
“Vonn’s an incredible player. Great character. Leadership. Competitor. I was really excited to hear that,” Said Hubbard. “He’s super physical. He comes down and makes tackles on anybody. He’s been doing that since I’ve known him. I think he’s elevated his game to a whole new level the last four years in New Orleans. I just think he brings a physicality and mentality in the back end that’s going to be awesome to have behind me.”
One of the biggest reasons to be excited for Bell is how much he will help stop the run. He is a very physical and athletic safety, and he is coming off a season where he was arguably misused as a deep safety with the Saints. For a team that has needed a physical safety who can fly up and make a sure tackle in space consistently, Bell fits that need perfectly.
Bell is a very interesting addition because he and Williams share a very similar role. Both are more box safeties than deep safeties, which isn’t an issue with Bates filling that role. However, it brings up the question on what Williams’ role in 2020 will be. Bell is by most accounts a better version of Williams in that role, so it will be interesting to see how the Bengals defensive minds are able to get the most out of their three safeties.
The additions clearly have these young budding stars chomping at the bit to play in 2020, and who can blame them? The Bengals finally saw they just weren’t good enough on defense and went out there and made changes.